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Don’t Be Fooled by Hip-Hop’s Newest Dance

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Many parents haven’t got a clue about Lil’ Kim, Lil’ Romeo, B2K, or the various other artists sitting in the CD stores’ Hip-Hop bins. Even so, it’s likely they have a bad impression of this genre anyway… regardless of their kids’ wishes that they’d give it a second listen. While I am no expert on this culture either, I have listened to enough of the music to know how profanities, sexual scenarios, and violence work their way into virtually every song.

“From a marketing perspective, using movies...to put a clean face on hip-hop is a bright idea.”

Like the Hell’s Angels doing community service, it’s no surprise hip-hop is looking for a way to improve its reputation in the eyes of parental gatekeepers who decide what’s acceptable for their children’s consumption. And what better place to start then in the movie theater.

My initial reaction after watching the recently released movie You Got Served, was pleasant surprise. Not so much by what was in the movie, but by what wasn’t.

The film’s players|most of whom are members of the group B2K|are mediocre actors at best, and the contrived plot stages the typical music and dance numbers that push the story to a completely expected ending.

But what’s unexpected is the inclusion of only a few mild profanities, a single violent moment that’s not even close to graphic, and sexual content limited to some revealing dance outfits and hip-hop artist Lil’ Kim’s tiny bikini top. For an extra good measure, there are depictions of cooperation, forgiveness, and the heroes offering a sincere prayer before heading into competition.

Based solely on what I saw on the screen, the movie squeaks into a passable grade for family viewing. So did Honey, a similar film released in December 2003. In between the plentiful hip-hop numbers, the story of an aspiring dancer sweetens its PG-13 rating (for drug content and some sexual references) by having its main character refuse to advance her career by sleeping with a high-powered music executive. Instead she goes back to the ‘hood and tries to make a difference in the lives of the local youth. (Junior rapper Lil’ Romeo plays the part of one of her dance students.)

All the same, I was suspicious these artists might project a very different image in the music industry arena. A few clicks of my mouse confirmed my feelings. Although the under 18 years-of-age Lil’ Romeo churns out fairly benign bubblegum romantic rhyme, the many websites publishing lyrics from Lil’ Kim’s CD’s revealed something more malignant. Her work features explicit verbal pornography and many of her songs portray women as being sexual toys for men.

While researching B2K, I stumbled upon a review of the group’s first CD. Christian critic Bob Waliszewski, manager of Focus on the Family’s “Youth Culture Department” quotes the band’s website as saying they Ӆwant to be the kind of group the whole family can listen to.”

In a phone interview, Waliszewski suggested the only reason B2K is seen as “positive” is because they are on the CD shelf with hardcore artists like 50 Cent and Eminem. Says the seasoned youth culture specialist, “Ten years ago, we would have been alarmed by B2K.”

He also voiced apprehensions over You Got Serve’s climatic ending. For someone concerned with sexual morals, it’s understandable that the dance battle’s winning prize of $50,000 and the “privilege” to appear in Lil’ Kim’s next music video, isn’t likely to be viewed as a coveted reward.

From a marketing perspective, using movies and videos to put a clean face on hip-hop is a bright idea. This medium will attract a whole new audience with the fringe benefit of having parents possibly gather ‘round the family room. Says Waliszewski, “I know record companies understand that there is a younger audience they have to tone down to.”

But when I suggested recording executives might begin to unleash a barrage of watered-down Eminem-types, he disagreed. “The trend I’m seeing is most popular albums tend to be significantly out of bounds for families.” And with the money they make, he doesn’t think that will change anytime soon. “50 Cent had the number one title in all of 2003. It’s very perverse, pro-drugs, and very violent by prompting weapons to settle disputes.” (You’ll get the violent message in seconds after visiting their official website: http://www.50cent.com/)

Obviously calling cards such as movies made for teens that aren’t saturated with increasingly explicit content, provide a positive way to meet the parents. These 90-minute infomercials also become the hub of all things sellable. Just as toys are spun off from children’s animations, so are musical artists-- and anything else upon which a price tag can be affixed.

After the introduction, most kids listen to their tunes in private environments or with earplugs linked to their music devices. (Considering the agitated feeling hip-hop solicits from many old fogies such as myself, it may be tempting to accept that as a blessed relief!) But concerned parents need to see beyond such warm and fuzzy first impressions. Make sure you have a good look at the players in other venues as well, because the scrubbed-up movies messages may not accurately represent what these artists do during their “day” jobs.

More of Bob Waliszewski’s reviews, along with others from the staff of the Christian publication PluggedIn Online can be found at http://www.pluggedinonline.com.

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About the Reviewer: Rod Gustafson

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